Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy, is the applied practice of the emergent field of ecopsychology, which was developed by Theodore Roszak. An ecotherapist understands that people are part of the web of life, and approaches clients from the perspective that our psyches are not isolated or separate from our environment. Some may even consider the natural world to have its own psyche, and as such, we foster a relationship of mutuality with the earth.
Connection with earth and its systems are at the core of ecotherapy. Ecotherapists believe that the earth has a self-righting capacity through complex systems of integrated balance, and that if we can harmonize with those systems, we will experience mental health. Personal well-being and planetary well-being are not separate from each other, and each must consider the needs of the other. In taking care of the earth, we care for ourselves. People’s lives are therefore seen as part of a greater system of interaction that includes both non-humans as well as human beings.
Ecopsychology is informed by systems theory, and some practitioners teach and practice ecopsychology exclusively, while many mental health professionals are now incorporating aspects of ecotherapy into their existing practices.
Ecotherapy is based on the theory that nature heals. Patients recovering from surgery heal faster when they have a window with a view of a tree or garden. Sad seniors brighten instantly when a baby or puppy comes to visit. Even violent offenders have been shown to behave less aggressively when they are given a window with a view of the great outdoors. Ecotherapy activities are intimately tied to nature and the world in its organic state. Long walks in the country are encouraged for people suffering with depression. Gardening or fishing can help relieve stress or tension. Helping revitalize or restore a common area in your community can create a feeling of purpose and hopefulness. Finding a quiet place to observe the beauty of the living world around you while just existing allows you to slow down and realize your deep connection to everything. Ecotherapy is a fluid approach that offers a wide variety of activities to fit your lifestyle and your goals.
Ecotherapists are trained in the specific techniques of ecotherapy and facilitate sessions to help clients improve their psychological well-being. The role of ecotherapist is that of care coordinator, acting as a liaison with other medical professionals, to develop a treatment plan that will ensure all mental, physical and spiritual needs are being met. Ecotherapists design therapy activities and provide instruction and direction to clients during the treatment. They observe and analyze the client’s progress and participation throughout the process and collaborate with the client to make any necessary changes in the course of treatment. Ecotherapists usually plan outdoor activities in a structured manner and often act as recreational therapists in some settings, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and youth treatment centers.